It’s been three years since I became executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society, though I must admit, there are times when I feel like I just got here. I guess it’s true when they say that time flies if you’re having fun.
Looking back, I can still recall the feeling I had when first entering the museum and checking out the displays in the exhibit hall. I was enthralled with the area’s history and the artifacts that were on display. As interesting as it was, however, I couldn’t help but wonder why there was no saloon display in the hall. Well, after three years of sitting in the director’s chair, I finally have my chance to make one.
For those who follow the MCHS, you’re likely aware that we have a large new exhibit space that we are devoting to agriculture. That said, we have dismantled the barn display in the old exhibit hall and now have a chance to create a new display in its place. Of course, I couldn’t resist the temptation to make a saloon to showcase McLeod County’s history of old time “likker” establishments. While researching some of the old saloons in the county, I came across an interesting story that I thought I’d share.
When McLeod County was first being settled in 1855, no saloons existed. The land was wild, untamed, and alcohol was likely far from the minds of those coming to start a new life. In Hutchinson, the early settlers scorned alcohol as a societal ill and wrote in the town charter that no drinking establishment was permitted in the city limits. Down the road in Glencoe, however, the settlers felt differently.
In the very infant stages of developing a settlement, alcohol was often obtained at a general store or shop of the like. Merchants often carried a few bottles of whiskey, which could be sold or opened to furnish customers with a stiff drink. Oftentimes a shot of whiskey was given away as a business favor to good customers. It’s almost a certainty that early settlers in Hutchinson made their way to Glencoe if they found that they were getting too dry.
One of the first saloons in Glencoe came about in an unusual way. In 1855, when the settlers first came to the area, a small congregation of Methodist Episcopalians began meeting for religious services. By 1857 they had built their first church on the site that would later become the Glencoe Enterprise. Some years later, the congregation changed locations, leaving the old church site vacant. A German immigrant, Carl Weidewitsch, decided to open a saloon on the old church site.
Weidewitsch came from the old country where operating a saloon and selling alcohol was seen as worthy of a calling as any. To his credit, the old German immigrant did not encourage drunkenness or rowdiness in his establishment. Instead, he sold “likker” to a McLeod County element that believed a nip or two of alcohol didn’t do any harm — many of whom are said to have come from neighboring Hutchinson.
On a side note, in 1863, while on his homestead in Rich Valley Township, Weidewitsch was attacked by a band of Dakota/Sioux and lost an arm.
Some years later, Weidewitsch’s saloon closed its doors and the Enterprise moved in. Though it can’t be substantiated, a 1929 article states that between the clicking of linotype keys a person could almost hear the hymns of worshippers and the raucous voices of saloon patrons from years past.
In 2021, the vision of the old-time saloon is little more than a part of history. Modern bars do little to resemble the old swinging doors and piano music of the saloon. It won’t be long, however, until folks in the area can take a trip down to the museum and walk through the swinging doors of our own “establishment.” It promises to be a trip back in time, and perhaps if you listen closely, you’ll even hear a raucous chorus of “How Dry I Am.”